Natural England with Woking Borough Council in Surrey are trialling a new approach to Great Crested Newt (GCN) mitigation with the aim of reducing delays to developments. This strategic new approach considers regional GCN populations and habitat, identifying areas for development and mitigation. At the same time Natural England will look at simplifying the licencing system for developers.
Sounds good, but who pays and how will it be put into practice?
GCN exist in metapopulations utilising multiple ponds and linked good quality terrestrial habitat at a landscape scale. The new approach will involve surveying GCN populations to establish the size, locations and habitat use of GCN populations in the region. This information will be used to identify areas where development will have the least impact and also areas where habitat creation is required to improve connectivity. This information will then be put into a local conservation plan for great crested newts.
At the same time Natural England will use this work to look at how the licencing system can be more straightforward for developers. Great crested newts are protected under European and UK law. As a European Protected Species it is illegal to capture, kill, injure or disturb them without a licence from Natural England. The current process to obtain a mitigation licence involves producing a method statement and associated plans; supported by recent survey data. This application then has to be reviewed by Natural England before the licence will be granted. Due to time constraints around the survey data collection period and the time Natural England require to review the application, a development project can experience delays even before the mitigation stage has begun.
The current idea for the pilot project is that the council will put in place the new habitat so that when development results in habitat loss, the habitat gains will already be in place to compensate. Where there are sites of high conservation value for great crested newts it is likely that developers will seek to avoid those areas.
The potential for this pilot project to help newts and developers is clear to see, effectively it would see developers changing from smaller schemes designed to mitigate the impact of their own development in isolation but be part of a single larger scheme which should be more focused on the population as a whole. The project however would likely require significant upfront funding from local authorities already unable to meet their annual budgets. The mechanism for delivery of the pilot let alone a national scheme on this basis is yet to be explained. However, should these financial hurdles be overcome and the project prove to be successful, this could lead to the licencing system in its current manifestation becoming obsolete.
The pilot project is due to be launched in the autumn. Natural England will be consulting national and local partners from across conservation organisations and the development industry as it evaluates the pilot.
For further information about the pilot scheme, click here.
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